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Chinese Diplomat Expresses Optimism About N. Korea

A high-level Chinese diplomat is expressing fresh optimism about the prospects for resolving the North Korean nuclear crisis. China's vice foreign minister told reporters today that he hopes Beijing's diplomacy will bear fruit in the coming year.

Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Dai Bingguo told reporters Monday that he has hopes for a "good harvest" next year concerning efforts to resolve the nuclear standoff with North Korea.

Mr. Dai made the remark to reporters in Seoul, at the start of talks with South Korean Foreign Minister Yoon Young-Kwan. There was no indication from either Chinese or South Korean officials Monday as to when an expected second round of multi-party talks on the nuclear issue might be held. There have been hopes that the renewed talks would take place before the end of this year.

The first round, held in Beijing in August, ended inconclusively. The talks included both Koreas, the United States, China, Japan and Russia.

North Korea last month agreed in principal to attend a second round of talks, but its recent statements have cast doubt on whether it would actually do so. Monday's statement by the Chinese official, whose colleagues have been in close contact with North Korean officials, is one of the more positive statements on the issue to emerge recent weeks.

Mr. Dai on Monday also met in Seoul with Unification Minister Jeong Se-Hyun and national security advisor Ra Jong-Yil. The Chinese official is due to travel to Japan on Wednesday.

China, traditionally North Korea's closest ally, has taken the diplomatic lead in attempting to bring Pyongyang back to the negotiating table. Following the first round of talks, the North Koreans said they had no further interest in the peace process.

Pyongyang says it wants a written assurance that Washington will not attack North Korea, and also that it will provide economic aid. The United States says North Korea must dismantle - in a verifiable manner - its nuclear weapons program. President Bush last month said he was prepared to offer a written security guarantee to Pyongyang if it did give up its nuclear development.

The crisis flared 13 months ago when the United States said North Korea officials had admitted running a nuclear program, in violation of international agreements.